Analysis of The Yellow Wallpaper

The cult of true womanhood defined women as “ladies”(pure, diligent). When we talk about American woman, we have to specify their religion, sexual orientation, race, social class (it is therefore essentialist to talk about “women” in general. Depending on the group which they are in, certain coordinates are applicable. The Yellow Wallpaper is about a white, protestant, heterosexual woman at the end of the 19th century in the higher middle class. Gilman wanted to obtain more freedom and in order to do so, she had to rebel against the most important institution oppressing her: Marriage.

Nowadays, the typical happy family is outdated and doesn’t exist. Gilman lived at a time when the perfect family was imposed on women (spinsters and bachelors were frowned upon in protestant society). The upper class women were brought up with the sole aim of being good housewives and mothers. The idea of a woman reading a book was frowned upon in society and they were only encouraged to read moralising and exemplary tales (eg. The angel in the house). Young girls were accompanied by a “chaperone”, who had the role of looking after and policy them.

The Yellow Wallpaper takes place in a Victorian house and attic which used to be a nursery. Spaces in the house were Gendered (some spaces were meant for men and some for women: kitchen, sitting room for women and library for men. The upper stories of the house become a gothic territory: The Attic = discarded things This space is exploited from a literary point of view, whereby women who don’t fit into the cult of true womanhood are enclosed /imprisoned (= old object that doesn’t work). The most important example of this is Jane Eyre (Mrs. Rochester is locked in the attic and dies in a fire so Mr. Rochester could Marry Jane, even though he became blind/She is imprisoned due to the colour of her skin. The husband can? t show her). This is a literary image and symbol to represent the fact that women become part of the trash in the attic, not valid for anything. In the Yellow Wallpaper, the fact that the attic used to be a nursery is significant. Her husband is a doctor. The story is written in the 1st person: apparent diary, which depicts/reports the protagonist’s descent into madness. Language tries to recreate her mental breakdown. Any woman in 19th century who might have shown a rebellious attitude to the patriarchal culture was considered to be mad). The Yellow Wallpaper is a short story. The woman in the ex-nursery. Everything that happens in the story must be understood figuratively. The doctrines (cult of true womanhood) that constructed what a woman was at the time are “cultural constructs”. Even children are culturally constructed. Our identity is changeable and flexible according to our context. Marriage is another social construct/fought against feminists.

The nursery becomes a symbol of the attic (madwoman in the attic), in which women become invisible. ____________________________________________________________ ___________________________ *BOSTON MARRIAGES”two women lived together all of their lives, but were not considered as lesbians (society simply recognised the fact that women could live together and help each other). Homosexuality wasn’t recognised officially and would only be at the end of the 19th century. Oscar Wild was the 1st homosexual who was openly out. (1) Marriage is not an imprisonment for everybody.

For white middle-class women in US it was a chance to legitimise them in society, while black women weren’t allowed to get married. How can she find a way to express herself? She writes on the wallpaper, because that? s the only paper left. Fashion the way we dress tells others about who we are: we are who we dress. We are guided by people who tell us what is in fashion and in the 19th century high class women were advised to wear certain outfits: corsets were controversial at the time because they deformed the female body. Women? s bodies were constructed by fashion.

Bicycles gave women new freedom and so did “bloomers” – a way of giving women more freedom of movement. Catherine E. Beecher (1842) wrote novels and believed in the cult of true womanhood. She wrote about domestic economy. Feminism: a) of difference b) of equality Feminism of DIFFERENCE: Men and women are not the same (men-public sphere/ women – private sphere). Women are not inferior to men, they can achieve the same thing in different ways. Women are morally superior to men and take control of the house: Beecher? s ideas. Feminism of EQUALITY: Men and women should be equal in front of the law: suffrage movement.

Feminism of difference was conservative but stated that women should be educated as their role would influence future generations (children). “American woman? s home”, “Art of cookery”. Women were taught to be good housewives. The family state and home was a heavenly kingdom on earth. Mothers were supposed to be self-sacrificing (mission: self-denial). Until the end of the 18th century women didn’t exist in terms of sex. Women were “deformed man” (clitoris=small penis, womb=2 aborted balls). Scientific discourse created sex and indoctrinated the world against women? s capacity.

If women were “aborted men”, this meant that they would never have the intellectual capacity of men either. In the Yellow Wallpaper, the man is a doctor because they had the capacity to define women. The protagonist is defined by her husband? s scientific discourse. He has the power to identify what is happening to her and tell her what she is (nothing exists until doctors name it. ) We always find dichotomy: man-woman/night-day. If we believe that all women are feminist, this is an example of ESSENTIALISM. Not all women are the same: gender is a cultural construct and women are indoctrinated into behaving in a certain way.

The author fights against MARRIAGE. She is a pre-feminist (feminism of difference). For a long time, the story has been considered as autobiographical (= confessional mode), as these sold books. In Protestant society, public confession was and is extremely popular. Confessional literature has always been sold well in the US and this is the reason that Perkins wrote” Why I wrote The Yellow Wallpaper”. Originally, the world “wallpaper” was hyphenated”wall” covered by “paper” (important connotations): 1st footnote. In short stories, everything is relevant.

At the time of writing, women were considered as side of “hysteria”: that the womb was irritated/inflamed. People believed that when women behaved in a way that they weren’t expected to, they were sick (hysteria). Women were expected to fulfil some roles. This “irritation or the womb” made people believe that a woman? s reproductive system was at threat and might stop working. Because of this, reading was “dangerous” for women because it excited the mind and therefore the womb. At the time of writing, there was a physician who said that high-class women should have a REST CURE to relax.

He forbade any kind of intellectual work(reading and writing), to go into a kind of lethargic state. The confessional tome of her introduction makes readers automatically believe her. Women found it hard to get credibility and a doctor told them nothing was wrong with them. They were expected to get married and have babies (live a life as domestic as possible). Gilman wanted to show people how important it was for white and high-class women to work. (white women were fighting against marriage as a bourgeoisie ethos at the same time , black women wanted to fight to be able to get married and embrace the ethos. In her introduction, all of the autobiographical information is false (she never was at the brink of insanity because of a physician? s advice. She also states that her literature is therapy, as it “saved” a woman after she read it. This is also false. ANALYSIS OF THE YELLOW WALLPAPER Title yellow: connotation of sickness – tuberculosis (yellowish: blood doesn’t flow through your veins. ) Some people have interpreted the text as a criticism of Asian immigrants arriving on the shores of the west Pacific to work as railroad workers (S. fran.

Bay – Angel Islan) Chinese “carved poems” about the clash between their expectations about the American dream and their reality. wall-paper: women enclosed by the paper 1st person narrator who tells the reader what she is feeling from the start to the end of the piece. Syntax becomes increasingly repetitive and we see a stream of consciousness, a non-mediated representation of thoughts. Progression in the story reflects mental breakdown of main character. (syntax, story) Biologism, essentialism way women are indoctrinated into patriarchal culture – brain washing). one expects that in marriage” she starts her role (perverted by patriarchal society). Later, she tries to fight against it, but there is no way to escape, so she goes mad. John doctor/scientist (against superstition) *scientific world has the power to define her: enemy (discourse) Surrounded by a male text who defines what is happening to her (hysterical tendency) (dead paper written and lost). Sometimes it is easier for men to find a reason that they know (= prescribe a solution) than to find out the reason behind the problem and question their beliefs (doubt their own knowledge).

She has 2 possibilities: to believe what they say or go against it (when problems arise) Forbidden to work not house work (upper-class) Contradictions expresses desire and says she is not permitted to do so. Anything she does, feels, wants, etc. Will be questioned by John and explained by science and rationality. John: logic, coherence, science, etc. Her: opposite Control in American society, the only way to rule is to control one? s desires. When we are out of control, we became responsible for our failures. If we are not successful, we lack self-control. Everything in society falls onto the shoulders of the individual. American dream: whatever you want, you will achieve. (worst possible thing: to be a loser) Our protagonist cannot understand that there are some things that are out of control. Clash between what she wants and the burdens of society. On the one hand, she cannot recognize that there are 2 confronting Johns: nice and loving/ controlling. To make us blame ourselves for the blame of others in the worst situation that we can find ourselves in. Nursery he infantalises her and deprives her of all responsibilities. At the top of the house mad oman in the attic (to hide her). Writing = LIBERATION Baby: John doesn’t allow her to be a wife or mother. Little by little, the paper becomes a protagonist and a reflection of the protagonist? s mind. As she is forbidden to write, she has to project her thoughts through the paper. * Page 652 She is projecting her fears, her deepest feelings, obsessions, repressions: a gothic story comes out using monsters, horrendous monsters. That creature is herself. She? s projecting herself on the paper. The paper becomes the text and the room is the symbol of her min, everything is torn (rascado/roto).

There comes John? s sister… : everything we? ve talked about (white, high class women), a very few women. Here we have the example that all women don’t think they have to rebel against this patriarchal system. John? s sister is like many other women, she is happy being indoctrinated in this patriarchal system. A woman against woman. The text makes it clear. The protagonist is the rebellious while the other is happy with the system. We can? t universalise. Enthusiastic housekeeper: maybe she? s single. She? s backing up her brother and she is not helping the protagonist.

As we can see, not all the women were rebelling against that repression. * Page 653 John? s sister – Tennice : patriarchal –minded woman (cult of true womanhood). Conspires with other 2 male characters against protagonist (also believes her creativity and writing is making herself sick). no possibility of sisterhood or gender – solidarity because John? s sister condemns writing and is also the protagonist? s enemy. The challenge to break out of patriarchal society and not feel guilty is what drives her mad. Contrast between rationality that ruled society (=logic, symmetry, etc. and the female body (curves, illogical) Little by little, her syntax becomes more shortened, to represent what is going on in her mind. The protagonist is not strong enough to break through the layers that John has suppressed her in. She has to die within herself. She puts all of the burden on herself and is unable to escape from John. Rationally, she accepts what is happening, but physically, she cannot: clash. * Page 655 1st time she sees a woman in the paper. Bit by bit she feels more identified with the woman in the paper (journey of self-identification). The paper is a projection of her madness.

In imagining things, we project our fears. The woman on the paper wants to escape and as the protagonist couldn? t get divorced (social class problems), madness was her only way to “free” herself. And it is like a woman: she says freely that the wallpaper is a woman. From now onwards: a progressive journey to self-identification and that means madness. The crazier she gets the more self-aware she becomes. Moon: signifies femininity Parallel movement: husband and sister-in-law look at her differently because she is losing ground and her stability (1st p. narrative). At the same time, she starts to distrust them.

Process in crescendo. Pattern: patriarchal society In the end, she pulls down the patriarchal paper and is free but mad. * Page 660 The woman in the pattern was creeping and now she creeps. She? s narrating what the husband is doing. John is desperate. In the end: the door locked, he opens it later and he stops short: that is John? s vision. She is no longer a woman, she identifies with the projection of herself, woman escaping and creeping in the wallpaper. However, she has changed the meaning of that paper, she has achieved freedom. The paper is a way she got liberation – she is mad.

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